Thalamus controls development and expression of arousal states in visual cortex

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of Neuroscience








Cortex; Preterm; Resting state; Spontaneous activity; Thalamus


© 2018 the authors. Two major checkpoints of development in cerebral cortex are the acquisition of continuous spontaneous activity and the modulation of this activity by behavioral state. Despite the critical importance of these functions, the circuit mechanisms of their development remain unknown. Here we use the rodent visual system as a model to test the hypothesis that the locus of circuit change responsible for the developmental acquisition of continuity and state dependence measured in sensory cortex is relay thalamus, rather than the local cortical circuitry or the interconnectivity of the two structures. We conducted simultaneous recordings in the dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus (dLGN) and primary visual cortex (VC) of awake, head-fixed male and female rats using linear multielectrode arrays throughout early development. We find that activity in dLGN becomes continuous and positively correlated with movement (a measure of state dependence) on P13, the same day as VC, and that these properties are not dependent on VC activity. By contrast, silencing dLGN after P13 causes activity in VC to become discontinuous and movement to suppress, rather than augment, cortical firing, effectively reversing development. Thalamic bursting, a core characteristic of non-aroused states, emerged later, on P16, suggesting these processes are developmentally independent. Together our results indicate that cellular or circuit changes in relay thalamus are critical drivers for the maturation of background activity, which occurs around term in humans.

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